life-giving law

“Do not think that I have come to abolish  the law or the prophets. I have come

not to abolish but to fulfill.

The people I spend time with during the average week are good people and great company. Most of them periodically indicate that they disagree with the teaching of the Church on some matter or other. Some of these people are not Catholic, and others were baptised and raised as Catholic but have had no real adult knowledge or experience of weekly life in a Catholic parish or community. As a priest of course, many of my daily contacts are with faithful and faith-filled Catholics who are generous in their support of parish life, but even these good people comment from time to time that they do not accept Church teaching on some (or many) matter(s).

If the opportunity arises, and the time seems right, I like to engage people in conversations about the Church. Someone may suggest a Church teaching that they find difficult or have rejected. I might ask them to, in a sentence or two, give their understanding of that teaching or doctrine. Nine times out of ten I have to respond that I too disagree with what they have described, but that what they have presented is actually not the teaching of the Church.

In my experence a very small percentage of active Catholics know what the Church teaches on most matters including not only doctrines of the reality of God and God’s activity in the world (i.e. Trinity, Incarnation, Resurrection, Ascension, Pentecost), but also about the reality of human existence that God has created us for (e.g. justice, peace, sexual morality, Christian virtue etc).

Some people comment that these realities were taught well before the 1960’s but not in the years since. I don’t accept this. Too often in the past five hundred years (since the Council of Trent) the life-giving realities of faith in Jesus were presented in a climate of fear and oppression. In the past fifty years the pendulum has swung to the opposite and equally tragic extreme. Now many parents and some other teachers of faith (including in Catholic schools) have reduced Catholic Christian faith in Jesus Christ to being a good person, nice to others, and living with good values as determined not by Christ, but by society.

This is perhaps inevitable in a post-Christian context where a teenage compulsion to grasp at every mirage of freedom is alive and active in many adult minds. Freedom is never achieved through a rejection of good law. Instead it is good law that enables the safe and life-giving environments that are essential for human happiness and health.

The people of the Old Testament, the Jewish people, were and are often referred to as the “People of the Book”  or the “People of the Law.” It is helpful for us to remember that for these people journeying from slavery in Egypt to freedom in the land of promise, the Law (Ten Commandments) was their greatest treasure. Until Moses came down the mountain bringing these tablets of teaching written by the hand of God, the people were lost desert wanderers who in difficult moments foolishly saw their past captivity as preferable to their present thirst. Now, with the arrival of the Law, the people had heard from God. They rejoiced that God had spoken, communicating to them, with unprecidented practical clarity, a method that would enable them to really live: “If you choose you can keep the commandments, they will save you…before you are life and death, good and evil, whichever you choose shall be given to you.”

Many baptised Catholics drifted from the Church in their teenage years and have never been fully a part of the Church as an adult. This means that they, now in their 20’s, 30’s, 40’s and older, have never really tried Catholicism. As a result they don’t know whether or not their lives would in fact be happier and healthier if they did live as fully active Catholics with a weekly rhythm of Mass, and a regular pattern of the Sacrament of Reconciliation, (ref Pope Francis this week on need for God’s mercy), and a daily rhythm of prayer alone and with family, and striving to live by the commandments and all aspects of Church teaching.

Here’s my encouragement: try living fully as a Catholic for one month. Then each night take a minute or so as part of your night prayer to ask yourself if you think are happier as a result of this decision. If you decide that you are not happier, then I am sure you will go back to your previous way of life. But, if you find that you are happier, why would you let go of your renewed commitment and practice?

 

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